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Once Again, Redskins' Public Trust in Jeopardy

Owner Daniel Snyder, left, with executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato and spokesman Karl Swanson, is rapidly working his way up the list of worst owners in the history of Washington pro sports teams.
Owner Daniel Snyder, left, with executive vice president of football operations Vinny Cerrato and spokesman Karl Swanson, is rapidly working his way up the list of worst owners in the history of Washington pro sports teams. (By John Mcdonnell -- The Washington Post)
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Friday, September 4, 2009

What have we done to deserve this?

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For 100 years, Washington has been blighted with some of the worst owners of pro sports teams that the United States has produced. Daniel Snyder of the Redskins is just the latest, though he is rapidly working his way up a list of ignominy that includes racists and rip-off artists, the vindictive and the vain, cheap town-jumpers as well as the merely meddlesome and incompetent.

This week, as detailed in James V. Grimaldi's stories in The Post on Redskins tickets, the team has taken the bad faith prize for mean and greedy business practices toward its own fans. If ticket buyers with multiyear contracts suffer from economic hard times, the Redskins do not emulate at least nine other NFL teams, as well as local franchises such as the Capitals, and simply cancel the tickets and sell them to someone else. Nope. Despite a "waiting list" they claim is 160,000 long, the Redskins sue some of their own fans for the money and, at times, even resell the tickets.

To whom would they do such a thing? A 72-year-old grandmother who has loved the team all her life has lost a $66,364 judgment to the team even as she says she's close to bankruptcy. That might take the cake for meanness. But for stupid moves, my choice was the Redskins suing an unemployed paranoid schizophrenic. Now that's crazy. Another fellow, sent to jail, told the Redskins and Nats he'd like to cancel those season tickets of his. The Nats sent him free tickets. The Redskins, of course, sued him.

The Redskins have a right to enforce contracts. But that doesn't make it right. No wonder there are few rebukes in this town as insulting as, "That sounds like something Dan Snyder might do."

The recent revelations about Redskins tickets, including sales of thousands of them to secondary-market brokers even though it is against team policy, have brought howls of "that's the last straw." The Redskins say they've disciplined miscreants internally. They say there'll be no more Steelers crowds at FedEx Field. And they say the problems involve a relatively small number of tickets.

I say I'm not surprised. Unfortunately, it's the pattern of a whole lifetime for many of us. Embarrassing sports ownerships -- not worthy of the town, the teams and the fans -- are our curse.

As a child, I read Shirley Povich's condemnations of the racist practices of Redskins owner George Preston Marshall, including the famous story that began, "Jim Brown, born ineligible to play for the Redskins, integrated their end zone three times yesterday." No wonder, if you were looking for a team with an offensive nickname, you would start here.

As a kid, I wrote Senators owner Calvin Griffith, begging him not to trade homer champ Roy Sievers. The Nats wrote back, saying they wouldn't trade my hero and would my family be interested in season tickets. Within a month, Sievers was traded -- with cash back to the Nats a key to the deal.

So, I learned early how the penny-pinching Griffith made Washington the city referred to, since the early 1900s, as, "First in war, first in peace and last in the American League."

Like Griffifth, Bob Short also moved a Senators team. Povich investigated: Short put up just $2,000 of his own money to buy the Nats, leveraging the rest with exotic financing; then, after running on a shoestring budget and fielding terrible teams, he blamed Washington and skipped to Arlington -- Texas. To this day, the Rangers haven't won a pennant, much less a World Series.

Say this about our bad bosses: They get the karma they deserve.

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